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Rheinturm (Dusseldorf, Germany)

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Telecommunications tower in Düsseldorf, Germany

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      09.05.2011 23:23
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      How to get a bird's eye view of Dusselfdorf

      There's a tendency to think, when it comes to television towers, that when you've visited one, you've been to them all. Actually, you couldn't be further from the truth; no two teletowers are alike, no matter how much they may look to be, even close up. For me this is not necessarily a good thing because it's Himself, my faithful and ever present travelling companion, who always insists on visiting any available teletower. Curiously, although I am fine in the highest of cable cars or halfway up the steepest of mountains and love to look out of the window on planes, I tend to feel horribly vertiginous in tall buildings, especially ones like television towers that seem, to me at least, terribly unsafe.

      As you are reading this review it must be apparent that I managed to conquer the fear that I'd soon be reacquainted with my breakfast, and reluctantly wedged myself into a tiny lift, nose to nipple with a dozen German and Italian tourists and the lift operator, Düsseldorf's answer to Alfred Hitchcock, and, actually, I quite liked it - well most of it.

      Since the tower is easy to see from any part of the city it might seem like a bit daft to ask how to get to the Rheinturm but if you are short of time, or can't walk very far (or just don't wish to) you might be glad to know that there are a couple of bus stops very close to the tower. It's also one of the stops on the hop on/hop off open top bus tour. For those who do wish to walk, then it's a lovely fifteen minute stroll from the Altstadt along the Rhine Promenade to the tower. There's a car-park beside the building, and spaces to lock up bicycles too.

      Admittedly the Rheinturm is not the most attractive building in Düsseldorf (and juxtaposed against the splendid architecture in the Media Harbour it looks even worse); it's what you'd call striking rather than beautiful and even striking lends a vague sense of beauty that this tower simply does not have. It is elegant, though, tapering gently from a slightly wider base, forming a neat waist and then opening out again a bit like a martini glass, a little notch where the observation deck and restaurant are, then tapering again as if crowned with a mixture of alternating beermats and cotton reels and topped off with a flightless dart - a much nicer design than those teletowers that look like a giraffe that's swallowed a UFO. There's a light sculpture on the outside of the shaft of the tower which is said to be the world's biggest digital clock; the sculpture, called "Lichtzeitpegel" (Light time level) was designed by Horst Baumann.

      The construction of the tower started in 1979 and was completed in 1981; sadly the interior appears never to have been updated and as a result looks rather sad and dated. Of course, you've come to look at the view outside the tower and not to critique the interior decoration but it is hard not to wonder why they don't spruce it up a bit.

      There are a few steps up to the entrance and a small ticket office inside. It's very dark and gloomy and not the kind of place you'd want to hang around in, so it was disappointing to find when we visited that one of the two lifts was not in use. There are seats around the outside of this area and the lift shaft occupies the centre of the chamber. The outside of this was clad in mirrors on which is etched a map of the world and the time zones, with key cities picked out. This didn't do much to distract from the general gloominess and I couldn't help but compare this with the lovely coloured windows and excellent exhibition in the entrance to the teletower in Tallinn, Estonia.

      Once the lift had emptied from its downward journey we all filed in and the operator pressed the button that would start our ascent. As this lift is built into the centre of the tower, there are no windows but you can follow the progress of your ascent on the red digital clock which counts the number of metres covered. At 170 metres the lift stops and it's all out and onto the observation deck.

      There's a small café on this deck where you can buy drinks and snacks but the main restaurant is another couple of metres up and accessed by staircase. The restaurant revolves so you can enjoy views in every direction while you have your meal; a full revolution takes one hour. I can't comment any further on this as I have no particular desire to eat my lunch while spinning (albeit rather slowly) over Düsseldorf(although I did have a glass of tea in the revolving teletower in Ankara, and had a mini ordeal with a bolshy waitress in the restaurant in the tower in Tallinn so nobody can call me unadventurous!)

      I was rather perturbed to exit the lift and find in front of me a teenager spread-eagled on the toughened glass windows of the observation deck. Feeling immediately queasy I gave a cursory glance out of the window, uttered a quiet "mm, yes, lovely" and went to find a grubby plastic seat to sit on while Himself called enthusiastically for me to look at the amazing roof of the local parliament building below. After a few minutes I found my teletower legs and went to have a look. I have to say that the views are truly spectacular especially those of the laden barges making their way up and down the Rhine. At this point of its course, the Rhine undulates a lot and these sinuous curves look fabulous from above; it is quite something to watch the very long barges being effortlessly steered through the snaking river.

      In one direction you have a brilliant bird's eye view of the Media Harbour and, in particular, the Frank O'Gehry buildings, a trio of three office blocks, two silver and one terracotta coloured, that stand just beside the base of the tower. In another direction you have the circular building of the Landtag of North Rhine Westphalia which looks more impressive from above than it does from the ground, and in another direction you look over the elegant streets of the slightly boho area of Karlstadt. Helpfully, there are captions in each window to tell you what you can see in each direction, great if you aren't very familiar with the city. Before I knew it I had spent at least twenty minutes retracing my steps of that morning and the previous afternoon, had watched the passage of a couple of huge barges and looked on with a smile as a little launch made lazy circles in the Media Harbour several hundred metres below me.

      The people who run the teletower have good business sense in that they know that kids will probably tire of admiring the views long before their parents and so they have provided a handful of opportunities through which parents can buy the kids' good behaviour. Throw in a Euro for the use of binoculars, place a 10 cent coin in the machine and get a "stretched" one in return, or purchase all manner of sticky, sugary sweets; the choice is yours, or rather, the kids choose, you pay.

      We did venture downstairs to the outside deck which is just a few steps down but it turns out that the heavy iron grills make viewing almost impossible and it seems that this outdoor area is little more than a smoking place. It's a shame that it's not possible to get better views on this level but I can fully understand why they've taken these measures.

      During the descent I felt my ears pop and I can't deny that my legs were a little shaky when I stepped out of the lift. I'm sure I wasn't the only person glad to be back on terra firma and a few people had friends or family awaiting their return; this is understandable as this sort of attraction is not for everyone (some 300,000 people a year do visit it however). I found that I was able to cope with the height if I looked more or less ahead but when I looked down just to the edge of the tower, I felt quite unwell. The teletower connoisseur loved the whole experience and probably would have gone back the next day if I hadn't insisted on a boat trip instead. I enjoyed the Rheinturm but I can do without that kind of terror on a daily basis.

      For us admission was free as we had Düsseldorf Welcome Cards but full price is Euro3.80 for adults, Euro3.10 for 12-18 year olds and Euro2.20 for children under twelve, which is fair value given the amount of time you can spend here.

      The tower is open daily from 10.00am until 11.30pm although the restaurant closes each day at 7.00pm.

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